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Poison Ivyby joebartels by joebartels

Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac - members of the "rhus" family


  • Poison Ivy & Oak... Leaves of three - let it be!
  • Sumac has 7-13 leaves and is usually found in the wetlands
  • Urushiol oil in the sap causes irritation
  • Urushiol is the #1 irritant. Including all others COMBINED!
  • A quarter ounce could give the whole world a rash! But...only 60 to 85% of the population is affected by the antigen "Urushiol"
  • Roughly 10% have severe reaction & 10% have no reaction
  • Sensitivity typically declines in individuals in their thirties
  • Sap carrying the antigen oil urushiol does not reside on the outer plant
  • Sap is exposed by snapped branches, leaves and bug eating holes in the leaves
  • Dead leaves continue to carry the oil for years

Course of irritation

  • Redness usually occurs in 12-48 hours, possibly as soon as a few hours or as long as 2 weeks depending on your sensitivity
  • Blisters break approximately 5 days after incurring the rash
  • Fluid in the blisters does not cause spreading
  • Spreading does not occur once the antigen has been absorbed (3-15 minutes)
  • Most cases last 12 to 15 days
  • Medical assistance may not be necessary
  • Definitely seek medical assistance if any of the following occur:
    • If blistering continues to ooze longer than two weeks
    • If a fever develops
    • If lymph nodes under your arms, neck or groin - swell or become sore
    • Possibly other symptoms too


  • May be washed off within 15 minutes of contact
  • Best washed off quicker as the antigen is usually absorbed within 3 minutes
  • After approximately 15 minutes you cannot wash it off but hey you can't transfer it either!
  • Use lots of running cold water to wash it off
  • Hot water and soap help eliminate the sap quicker though they wash away your skins natural defense which in turn opens the pores for more absorbtion
  • Pets tend to venture off trail then transfer the antigen to the owner. Animals are typically less sensitive to urushiol.
  • Beware of sap underneath your fingernails - everywhere you scratch could become affected. Remember it's the sappy oil containing the antigen urushiol that can be spread, not the oozy puss from wounds.
  • Do not burn leaves, even dead leaves as the soot could transfer the oil

Remedies & such

  • Cool water is the best remedy, even the suggestions below cause the skin pores to open up which in turn may let in more antigen
  • Calamine lotion, baking soda (add a little water to form a thick paste) or soaking in waters with Epsom salts may relief some of the itching. Also, an antihistamine such as Benadryl may help. Note: none of these will cure, just ease the effects
  • Vaccines are available, though rare - must be taken before exposure
  • Identification and avoidance is your best defense


  • Poison Ivy - Varies greatly by region. Here's a photo of Poison Ivy found in Arizona. Notice the opposing leaves have a notch on the same outer side.
  • Poison Oak - three leaves like poison ivy though shaped like your average oak leaf
  • Poison Sumac-less likely to be found in Arizona, 7-13 narrow leaves. So you have at least 3 but up to 6 leaves on each side with one at the end.

2001-07-15 joebartels


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